Sunday, January 27, 2008


James Beard recommends proofing the yeast even if you are sure that the yeast is good, for better flavor. I've been longing for a whole meal bread similar to those I ate in England. Yesterday I ran a trial on a recipe of my own creating, using steel cut oats to make an oatmeal bread. Wanting a robust loaf, I thought I'd proof the yeast first. I had cookies baking as well, so put the yeast to proof, then went to tend the lemon cookies in the oven. I turned around to find the yeast was a lively batch!

Michelle's Welsh Oat Bread

1 cup water
1 cup steel cut oats
1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk, warmed
2 scant tsp salt
1 cup white whole wheat
4-5 cups white flour
vinegar and water in a spray bottle

Bring one cup water to a boil. Pour over the oats in mixing bowl. While the oats cool to lukewarm, proof the yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm water to which you've added the sugar. Add the yeast mixture, the warm milk, salt and whole wheat flour to the cooled oats. Mix well. Add the white flour until a firm dough forms. (I do this in my KitchenAid.) Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and yields under your hands. Put the dough in buttered bowl, turn to coat. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Punch the dough down, knead for a couple of minutes. Form into two loaves, place in buttered pans (I used a 10" loaf pan). Let rise in a warm place until doubled. Spray the tops of the loaves lightly with the vinegar and water mixture. Bake at 400F until the bottoms of the loaves sound hollow when tapped (about 35 to 40 minutes).

I'm pleased with the result. It was amazing toasted with butter for dinner tonight!

If you try it, let me know what you think!

Feline Feats


I'm upstairs fetching a fresh tablecloth when I hear the plaint. "Let me in!" Sighing, I head for the bathroom window. Surprise, no cat to be seen. I check the front door. The side door. The basement. The garage. Now I'm sure I was hearing things. I tuck the kids in, and go back up to get my glasses.


Window? No. Door? No. OK - I'm starting to worry. I go back upstairs and listen. I follow the meows. Ah-hah! Fluffy is in Math Man's dresser drawer. Last open? This afternoon around 3 when Math Man was getting out a shirt. Six hours she's been in the drawer. How many of them do you think she spent sleeping?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reading Recipes

"You have the second best spot in the house, " announces Crash, fresh from the shower and wrapped in my favorite fluffy throw. "What's the best spot?" "Your comfy chair..." Of course.

I offered to share the sofa, and we ended up cuddled up together checking out Dr. Seuss' other cartoons (his political cartoons and his advertising cartoons, I had been unaware of the former until Crash pointed them out to me). Then we dove into the blog. He chuckled over Spite Balls and thought the recipes for his parents were spot on. "Can we make my recipe?" We can. And did.

The Recipe For Crash

3 parts Imagination
2 parts Superiority
1 part Sensitivity

Splash of Pride

Shake vigorously

A night in the novitiate

I got up very early this morning to drive the hour and a half to the old Jesuit novitiate. I had an appointment with my spiritual director in the afternoon -- and had a room in the retreatants wing reserved for the night.

I spent the first 5 hours in blissful silence -and surprisingly even singing for the noon liturgy did not break the resulting stillness. The pianist and I practiced each song once, speaking softly and only the few words necessary.

I saw a half dozen cardinals (of the bird sort, not the ecclesial sort) on a morning walk, listened to the wind rustle the winter leaves in the afternoon.

I woke this morning before dawn and sat in the small chapel, at the very top of the hill, and watched the light morph from rose to amber to soft white.

In the middle of it all, I did stop by the computer in the small parlor and check my email -- and make a Scrabble move in my game against Cathy! [OK, I confess...I went twice.] The second time there was a sign on the computer saying "Please don't turn this computer off." Signed God. God, S.J.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Subliminal Latin

Crash used Garage Band to make a recording of his Latin vocabulary. There's soothing background music and Crash's voice saying each word twice in Latin, twice in English. Plan A? To play it all night long so he soaks up Latin while he sleeps. (The Boy with whom he share a room wants nothing to do with said plan, as he's a "fragile sleeper".) Plan B? Make CDs and sell them to his classmates.

piscina, piscina. fish pond, fish pond
puella, puella. girl, girl....

I'm getting sleepy, are you?

Subliminal comes, of course, from the Latin sub (below) and limen (lintel). Crash has his subliminal machine tucked under his bed - should the title of this post be subcubilum instead?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Midnight Triage

A younger colleague and I occasionally wonder if there is a 4th law of thermodynamics, one in which sleep is conserved among parents who teach thermodynamics. The other morning - after having been up in the wee hours of the morning not once, but twice, with Crash and the Boy, I inquired if NanoBaby has slept through the night. "For 8 solid hours." Another data point in favor of the hypothesis.

"So, I know what you do when you get up with a baby. Change the diaper, feed her, pat her, rock her...what do you do with a big kid?"

"Well, I start by asking what's wrong, but seriously, my next question is always: Are you going to throw up?"

For the record: no one threw up. I got Crash water and the Boy his inhaler. No one but me remembered it in the morning. I'm pretty sure it actually happened.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Spite Balls

It's not yet 9 am and all the creatures in the house are not only stirring, but stirred up. Fluffy is chasing a small sparkly ball around the sunroom and the boys are already wired up to the game that still shall not be named. They are tossing insults back and forth with glee. Barnacle Boy pings Crash with an oblique reference to a girl. "BBB est puella" Crash shoots back. (He's taken to insulting the Boy in Latin, with the generally unrealized hope that neither the Boy nor Math Man will understand. ) When they spot me, the three player version of the game begins in earnest. "Mooommmm, he's trying to kill me!" (Virtually, to be sure!) "Mom, he's throwing spite balls at me!" (Spite balls? and this is different from their usual behavior, how?) "Spite balls?"

I am firmly informed it's spike balls that are being thrown. Personally, I think I was right the first time.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Five: Books!

Revhrod at RevGalBlogPals wonders what the really good books in our lives are. And having taken BesoMami's reading challenge on, I'm thinking about writing about reading...

What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why?
Mary Oliver's Thirst. Two poems in particular from that collection have stuck with me. The first lines of Six Recongnitions of Our Lord:
I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.

Then I pray.
and of Heavy:

The time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.

What is one of your favorite childhood books?
I may regret admitting this in public, but The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I first read it in a frigid Illinois winter, where I was walking to school thinking of the little girl walking in the snow with no shoes. And the marvelous comeuppance that comes the way of Miss Minchkin.

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell!

The psalms are in my very bones.

What is one book you could read again and again?

The Psalms. :-) My comfort reading actually moves around, right now when I need something predictably soothing and humorous, I tend to pick up something in Lois Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series (A Civil Campaign is on my bedside table at the moment). They make me laugh and remind me of my brothers (and their well meaning, but somewhat quirky senses of humor).

Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why?

The Psalms. :-) Sorry, I couldn't resist. St. Benedict's Toolbox: The Nuts And Bolts Of Everyday Benedictine Living by Jane Tomaine, an Episcopal priest. The book grew out of her work in her parish and her doctoral dissertation, so it's grounded well in pastoral practice, tradition and prayer. Looking for a Lenten discipline? The focus is on how we can answer the calls to obedience, hospitality, stability and conversion of life outside the monastic enclosure. I gave it to my brother a couple of years ago when he was in the last stages of joining the Episcopal Church and asked me for something that would offer practical advice on living out God's call to us in our everyday lives. He chose to say the short version of Morning Prayer that is included - still does as far as I know. I won't reveal precisely where he says it, but it's one of the few places that a parent of young boys can find privacy in the morning!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cat in the bag?

The cat actually isn't in my bag -- she's asleep on the sofa next to me, but earlier today she was enjoying exploring the contents of my purse. Inspired by Kathryn, I dumped my bag on the bed to see (a) if there was anything useful in it; (b) if it could shed some weight and (c) whether there was any uneaten chocolate there! Yes to (a) and (b), but not (c).

Oddest things in my bag: a clementine (I ate it)
Heaviest item: breviary
Lightest item: paperclip (ok, there were 10 paperclips in there?)
Least useful item: lipstick (can't remember when last I used it)
Most useful item: Moleskin with everything in it from my agenda to important phone numbers to notes for writing

And I had 4 pairs of glasses in there? What's the oddest thing you carry around?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rhetorical Questions

Do I want to know what the white vinegar and food coloring were doing out on the counter?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Crash and Barnacle Boy were discussing the finer points of being an altar server at dinner the other night, based on Crash's vast experience (six weeks and counting). Turns out being behind the scenes you find out more than you might want to know.

"Did you know that the water for the blessings just comes right from the tap? It's just regular water that the guy [ed: that's a direct quote, can you tell we're Roman Catholic?] blesses!" Crash declared incredulously. The Boy doesn't quite believe him. "It's true," I threw in. "The water for the baptismal font, too. The only difference for the font is that if we are baptizing a baby, we use warm tap water." "You mean I was baptized with tap water?" "Uh-huh!" I'm certain he was scandalized. I'm not quite sure what he was expecting us to use, and now I wished I'd asked. Water from the Jordan, imported in bottles? Vatican blend? A spring in the sacristy?

If I put on my sacramental theologian and catechist hats, this raises a couple of interesting questions. Should we warm the water, what sacramental message are we sending? What do my kids understand about blessings and sacramentals?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Five: It's my party

RevGals' Mother Laura is having a birthday soon. Cathy already had one this year. Mine is going to be a big one. So, Math Man, take note....

1. When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous and/or in your own life) share it?

My birthday is April 12. My brother, Geek Guru, was born two years and two days later, so we don't quite share, but there's was definite "birthday" feel to mid-April when I was growing up. This year is a "decade" year in my family. Someone will turn 10, 20, 40, 50, 60, 80 and 90. I would be the median age in the list!

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few?

A nice dinner with a few friends.

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both.

My 2nd birthday is my first vivid memory that I can date. I can see all the people walking up the steps of the house we lived in in Naperville, some carrying gifts. My birthday had been a few days before, and I thought I was getting another party. Actually, what I was getting was a new baby brother. I'm sure I'd been told that, but since in those days kids didn't even see their sibs through nursery windows, I suspect I didn't have a great grasp on the concept. I was seriously dissappointed. Probably grounds for years of therapy!

A gorilla bearing champagne appeared in my office on my 30th birthday. I wouldn't come out into the hall, where colleagues and students were gathered, so the gorilla picked me up and carried me out. I was blushing!

My 40th birthday was also Easter Sunday - a first in my lifetime. (Three times when I was a kid, my birthday fell on Good Friday - a day of fast. If you do the math in 1., you realize that my brother's birthday in those years fell on Easter - jealous, me?? Nah!) I was totally distracted from the turning 40 bit by a horrific case of pink-eye I had (courtesy of my students, it was epidemic on local campuses that spring).

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream? (Bonus points if you share the cake recipe). Or would you rather have a different treat altogether?

Oh...Rainbow Cake. Make an angel food cake (or use a mix!). Take 1/2 the batter, divide into several small bowls and using food coloring, tint the batter various shades. Spoon the untinted batter and the tinted batter into a tube pan, making random patterns. When cut, the cake will have a festive splatter of shades. Here's a link to a more elaborate version (I like the little packages on top, though!).

5. Surprise parties: love 'em or hate 'em?

I've never had one - so I'll withhold judgement! But I definitely enjoy little surprises..the year I turned 38, I was expecting Barnacle Boy and had gestational diabetes - no cake for me. A friend appeared in my class, bearing a colorful plate of Jello-Jigglers -all sugar free, so I could celebrate!

Bonus: Describe your ideal birthday--the sky's the limit.

A beautiful spring day with a walk. Rainbow cake. A really rare steak.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Zone of Proximal Development

Tonight Barnacle Boy briefly left the table, I presumed to get the other half of his pannini (he'd left it in the warm pan to keep the cheese nicely melted). "I just switched the laundry," he announced matter of factly upon his return. The laundry? What laundry? "Are you doing the laundry?" I wondered. "Of course, I needed my gym shirt washed. I did a load of colors." I'm stunned. (I'm still stunned, to be honest.) "I'm very proud of you," I offered, perhaps a beat too late. "Are you really? I know how to do laundry!" I assured him that I trusted his ability to wash clothes, and was duly impressed by his self-sufficiency. "Your dad, now..." I started off teasingly.

I'd been down in the laundry this morning and noticed that Math Man had carefully hung up a huge collection of our outdoor gear to dry. What really caught my eye, however, was the large light pink athletic sock on the rack by the dehumidifier...and the pink gaiter and... A red fleece item had been washed with whites, and the results were predictable. It ran.

Math Man blushed (though he hadn't noticed the pink sock, just the now-pink gaiter). "Remember the year of the blue turtlenecks?" When we were first married, Math Man had washed jeans with his socks and underwear and all my white cotton turtlenecks (still a staple in my winter wardrobe). His theory was that he didn't want to do an extra load of wash, and didn't care what color his underwear was. Alas, I did care what color my turtlenecks were, so the theory should not have been extended to cover them. They were all now a pale shade of something I could only describe as Virgin Mary Blue. I lived a year with them, the budget wouldn't stretch to replacements. He proudly noted that this time my turtlenecks were not in the load. "You're learning!" "I'm in the zone of proximal development," he shot back.

The Boy now thinks his parents have lost it entirely (he may think that all the time, but I'm afraid to ask). "What's the zone of proximal development?" Math Man, having spent 5 years as a PI of a huge grant for math-science teaching, told him it's when you know enough not to be frustrated and not enough to be bored. Or when you know enough to separate the colors from your wife's whites.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Write like a girl?

Crash said I screamed like a girl when Fluffy dropped a mouse in my lap...but how do I write?

The Gender Genie claims to be able to discriminate between male and female writing. The algorithm tracks the occurrences of key words. Among its underlying assumptions are that women are more likely to use pronouns and a particular set of noun modifiers than are men. The male style tends more toward the "informational" while women's styles are more likely to center on how information is embedded in context and connections between information. As the authors succinctly put it, women's writing resembles fiction (even when writing non-fiction) and men's non-fiction.

What does Gender Genie think of my writing? It asks for samples of more than 500 words. I fed it a couple of longer entries from this blog (here and here), an op-ed I wrote and I come up male every time. I wonder if I write this way because I'm a scientist or am a scientist because I write this way?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Math Man's Missing Muffin

[Scene 1: a middle-aged couple at the breakfast table]

"Did I eat the other half of my English muffin?" comes the puzzled inquiry across the table.

"You must have, it's not on your plate," I replied muzzily over my cup of tea.

[Scene 2: the next day]

"Mom, what did I just step on?" wonders Crash. I peek under the table. Crash's foot is firmly planted on top of half an English muffin smothered in Welch's Grape Jelly. No dear, you didn't eat that muffin after all.

And can anyone tell me why I'm supposed to know what's happening to other people's muffins and feet?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

If only...

The Recipe For Michelle

3 parts Glamour
2 parts Wit
1 part Rebellion

Splash of Ambition

Finish off with an olive

I think they got the rebellion part right, and I can only hope to have that much wit...but no matter how I stretch it glamorous does not come to mind. Certainly not in my clogs, heart socks, cords and turtleneck. The sweater doesn't even match. Sigh...

On the other hand, I think they got Math Man spot on:

The Recipe For Math Man

3 parts Delight
2 parts Cleverness
1 part Impishness

Splash of Imagination

Finish off with whipped cream

Kathryn tried it, too. She sounds more like herself!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Raining Potatoes Alert

The weather warmed up to a balmy nearly freezing today, so we ventured forth to ski and otherwise frolic in the snow. Barnacle Boy has been eyeing the tubing hill all week, and tonight seemed like a great time to take advantage of it (or at any rate better than last night when it was twenty below by this time). Alas, after the rollicking downhill runs of today, tubing seemed rather tame to my team. I was glad I trekked over there, though - otherwise I never would have seen the sign:
Watch out for descending tubers!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Fairy Fights

With temps not breaking zero today, skiing was not in the cards for the team. Crash and the Boy took a dip in the tub, they emerged literally steaming in the sunlight - with icicles hanging off the Boy's bangs. Looking at 20 acres of pristine snow out the back windows, Crash was longing to have a huge snowball fight. I dutifully suited up to do battle after lunch. "How's the snow?" I inquired as arrived at the battlefield. "Not so good," he mourned. I picked up a handful, carefully tried to pack it and threw it with all my might at Crash. No satisfying thunk as it hit the target. Instead it looked like I was sprinkling fairy dust over my son.

We ended up taking a 45 minute hike through the field, down to the still flowing creek and around the old summer camp house. Only one set of prints to be seen out there besides ours. Even the animals are hunkered down for the duration.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Crash-ing Temps

It's -13oF here and it's not even the coldest part of the night yet. After a frigid afternoon of skiing (even Barnacle Boy was cold enough to put on long underwear), Crash thought a dip in the outdoor hot tub was in order. Since he couldn't go alone, I reluctantly volunteered to put on my jacket and oversee his soak. "You'd be warmer in the water," he offered. He was right, better in the water and warm than shivering in a jacket. But it was so cold that when I ran my wet hands through my hair, it froze in about a minute. Crash admired the clarity of the sky and the stars, I alas, had left glasses inside, so could see only a blur. When my eyelashes froze together I declared an end to the time in the tub.

But I'd do it again...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Prime Time with Barnacle Boy

The boys and I are in Vermont, house and cat sitting for friends. Yesterday we went skiing (the ski boot acts just like a cast, no lateral motion...whee, I can ski!) and as I got on the lift with Barnacle Boy he checked out our chair number, promptly mused about it's significance (25, a perfect square); the total number of chairs on the lift (113, prime); and then dove into the topic at the top of his mind: "There are more composite than prime numbers. Have we talked about this already?" "Uh, no." At least not precisely this topic - last year it was evens and odds! I think his statement isn't correct, that the same proof that applies to evens and odds (there are the same number) applies to this question, but my real analysis is too far in the past. Where's Cantor (or Math Man) when you need him?